It was just two short years ago that No. 1 seed and 2017 Liston bracket champion Concordia (Neb.) found themselves in a position similar to the one they are in heading into Monday night. The Bulldogs reached the semifinals of the 2015 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship where three other members of their conference, the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC), had advanced as well.
During that 2015 Championship, No. 1 seed Concordia (Neb.) beat a surprise No. 5 Briar Cliff (Iowa) team, who survived an upset-heavy Liston bracket, to reach the title game. However, the Bulldogs would come up short to powerhouse Morningside College, falling 59-57. Just two weeks prior to those teams meeting in the Championship final, though, Concordia handed Morningside their first loss of the season in the GPAC Tournament title game. Now, the Bulldogs have fought their way to the semifinals once again.
For St. Xavier (Ill.), the semifinals are uncharted territory. Overall, this is their 15th straight appearance at an NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship. 10 of those coming at the Division I level before dropping down to Division II before the start of the 2012-13 season. In just their fifth year in Division II, the 2017 Duer bracket champion and No. 1 seed St. Xavier (Ill.) has gone further than any other Cougar team had in those previous 14 appearances. Their pinnacle came back in 2015 as the reached the quarterfinals before falling to Hastings College (Neb.).
Both of these teams have had tremendous years on the hardwood. Concordia (Neb.) and St. Xavier (Ill.) have only two blemishes on their resume, and both also collected winning streaks of more than 15 games throughout the season.
This year, the Cougars began the season with the No. 5 ranking in the preseason Coaches Top-25 poll. They didn’t lose their first game until Jan. 7 after winning its previous 16 games. The one thing that ST. Xavier (Ill.) has struggled with is deep tournament runs, however, with a majority of their appearances ending in first or second round exits. Last year, the Cougars were the No. 1 seed in the Liston bracket, but were defeated by the No. 5 seed Goshen in the second round by a score of 86-84.
For Concordia (Neb.), some might say they are ahead of schedule. The youth on the roster might surprise their opponents, but the way they have played over the course of the season is impressive. After losing their first game of the season to the defending National Champions Marian Knights at a neutral sight in Denver, Colo., the Bulldogs won 26-straight games on their way to a GPAC Regular Season Title. The 26-game winning-streak was their longest since starting the 2002-03 season 32-0.
When these teams take the court together Monday night, it will be an all around battle. Offensively in Division II, the two rank second and fourth in 3-pointers made, first and third in total assists, and second and third in total scoring offense. On the defensive end, both teams rank top ten in total steals and total blocks, as well as top five in field goal percent defense. Similarly, these teams both hold their opponents to around 60 points per game.
Thus far in the National Championship, neither team has had a test. St. Xavier (Ill.) breezed by their first two opponents, first beating No.8 seed IU Kokomo by 40, then No. 4 seed Friends by 30. The Cougars quarterfinal matchup was a bit closer, but not much as they pulled away from No. 2 College of the Ozarks to win by 16. Concordia (Neb.) has looked just as strong winning their first and second round matchups by a combined 54 points over No. 8 seed Bryan (Tenn.) and No. 5 seed Cardinal Stritch (Wis.). The Bulldogs’ quarterfinal matchup was a closer affair, but they handled the Jimmies of No. 3 seed University of Jamestown and won by 15.
The second semifinal matchup of the night has the makings of an instant classic. For Concordia (Neb.) a win would mean two Championship final appearances in the last three years, while a victory for St. Xavier (Ill.) would be a breakthrough for the program. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and NAIA Network. Tipoff is set for 8:04 p.m. central time.